Tuesday, July 04, 2006


In my ninth lesson, my friend Paicas came with me (and had a wonderful time, I am happy to report). I will write up the lesson soon, but there's something I wanted to put down separately so it wouldn't get tangled in the lesson itself.

While we were at the milonga, we ran into two girls I had seen at previous practicas, and we were all chatting when a gentleman approached our table. He asked me to dance, danced a set with me, and then returned to the table and, one by one, asked everyone at the table to dance.

We were all beginners to varying degrees, and it can't have been the sort of oblivion one hopes to find in a perfect tango partner, but having asked one, he asked everyone. I most vividly remember Paicas, having caught the tango bug but good, leaning into him with an ecstatic smile on her face as he guided her through a new step.

I'm a card-carrying, I'll-open-my-own-door-thanks feminist that expects only common-decency manners. For instance, if someone is carrying something heavy with two hands, then you should open the door for them, age and gender notwithstanding. It just makes sense. They can't open it, can they? No! They have something in their hands! Makes sense, right? My male friends are intelligent, offbeat people who crack up if you make an Asimov joke or if you say "balls". (Come on, you laughed, too. "Balls" is funny. You don't have to be ashamed.) They also have a particular breed of manners that manages to denote respect rather than patronization.

At the milonga, two of the girls were stunned at the gentleman's display of manners, and when I found myself thinking, "That's what any guy would do," I realized that I am blessed with the company of gentlemen, which is a rare thing in the real world, and something I have taken for granted when I approach the dance floor.

My friends who haven't been to a milonga ask me a lot of questions that boil down to, "Isn't it a bunch of old perverts?"

(I always point to myself and say, "Just this one," because OH HAAAY.)

The answer, by and large, is No.

There is a code of ettiquette that rules a tango floor that, at times, is more intricate than the dance itself. Besides the line of dance, and the moves that may only be performed by one gender (for a man to perform a lustrada* on a woman is such a faux pas that I have yet to discover the consequences), there are rules entirely off the floor.

As a beginner there are worlds I don't know yet, but everything I have seen so far indicates that the man wants the dance to look good. If the hot young girl makes the dance look good, so much the better, but if the white-haired lady in the corner makes the dance look good, then she'll be dancing all night.

There also seems to be a huge amount of teachers' patience among dancers. I have never seen any woman refuse a dance nor any man withdraw an offer to dance upon finding out that it was someone's first/fifth/tenth lesson. This is put into perspective when you ask the nosy (and, for me, irressistible) question, "How long have you been dancing?"

"Five years," he says carelessly, or, "Ten years," or, "Twenty-two years," and off you go into a basic, because he will not embarrass you by asking you to do what's beyond you, and he would rather walk a basic with you and have you look good than try a fancy move and risk making a fool of his partner. This feels like dancing.

I've also had several of the opposite, who, upon ascertaining that you know a certain step, will try another and another until they have reached the ceiling of your knowledge and then proceed to fling you around while insisting you trust them. This feels like dating.

Interestingly, a tanguero's reputation is built on the esteem of women; if a man is a boring dancer but polite to the women he dances with, he will almost always find a partner when he goes looking for one. A man who is inconsiderate will find himself cold-shouldered by the women, whose defense against the question is to politely pretend not to have seen him. (By the way, this is exactly as hysterical as it sounds, especially as some of the older inconsiderate partners are a little deaf. There's nothing like trying to ignore a guy who gave you bruises on your shins as he yells "CARE FOR ANOTHER DANCE?" at your hairline.)

I keep wanting to boil this down into a pithy phrase, but all I can think is that all my guy friends should take up the tango, because in a world that praises crude guys there's a place where a gentleman is rewarded.

With old perverts. OH HAY!

* Lustrada is when someone "shines their shoe" against a man's pant leg; it's acceptable for a man to shine his own shoe, and it's more typical for a woman to shine the top of her shoe along the man's pant leg. It is never performed by the man to the woman. Never. Seriously, no.

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